US-China rivalry: A zero-sum politics

Both must think about the world as a whole

U.S.-China relations do not need another lawyer. –Abigail Washburn

The US-China rivalry is widespread across multiple fronts, with each seeing the other’s progress as a danger to its own. It creates a complicated zero-sum dynamic in which victories for one party are a defeat for the other. These tensions impede diplomatic efforts; affect international relations, and influence alliances and policies globally.

US President Joe Biden is facing the most challenging geopolitical situations: a severe Russia-Ukraine conflict and Israel’s unrelenting action in Gaza, which has invited worldwide condemnation because of the sheer number of children killed and international laws violated. Through these actions, Europe and the USA have alienated the world and are standing alone with their self-interested agendas.

The situation is the same at home, too. Rivals have launched vociferous attacks against Biden’s performance. Although the economy is doing relatively well, the international crisis will impact the USA soon. The USA has been playing a less crucial role in international trade. Additionally, with the protectionist measures it has adopted and the sanctions it has imposed on countries, the dollar’s relevance as a global reserve currency has gradually reduced.

On one side is Biden, who arrived in Israel, trying to convince his leading partner in the region to refrain from intensifying action against Gaza because of the USA’s economic interests in the Arab world and the pressures of international public opinion, which wants an end to the collective punishment of the Palestinian people. In addition, Biden received a snub in the form of the cancellation of the meeting he was to have in Amman with Jordan, Egypt, and the Palestinian Authority.

On the other side, in Beijing, surrounded by heads of state and government, President Xi Jinping was celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Belt and Road Initiative. A global partnership with more than 150 countries and 30 international organizations, with billions of dollars committed to significant investments in infrastructure. Read that with other developments, such as China’s economy growing by 5.2 percent in the first three quarters of 2023. These two worlds are completely different: while Beijing discussed economic development, Washington substantially discussed wars and conflicts.

However, Western nations were erecting walls to isolate China rather than altering US policy to ease the situation. The rapid demolition of this wall is necessary to change the destiny of humanity. Resuming the Cold War would be futile and a zero-sum game for the entire world. The world will pay a heavy price for a new Cold War, and the leadership of the West needs to understand this. But the West is unable to reverse its current trajectory. Domestic conflicts within the European Union have weakened the bloc’s economy, especially since the conflict in Ukraine began. The question of how long the European Union will survive is very important.

Both the USA and China have to patch up their differences. The idea is to move beyond the zero-sum mentality, recognizing that collaboration, mutual agreements, and shared interests can generate more substantial and sustainable benefits for all involved. So, rather than focusing solely on competing in a zero-sum game, the USA often aims to create scenarios where multiple parties can thrive simultaneously.

The West can no longer resolve disputes through mediation. On the other hand, it has maintained open lines of communication with all parties involved and has the unique ability to take on global obligations and address contemporary global difficulties because of its strategic neutrality.

The meeting of the senior leaders is influential in this uncertain situation. Beijing’s backing might alleviate most of the world’s challenges. Furthermore, Biden could go down in history as the political leader who struck the most successful cooperation agreement and engagement with China if he were to forgo protectionism, end former US President Donald Trump’s trade war, and sign long-term agreements with China. Such acts will bury a hostile global environment that does nothing to promote development and peace.

Among all the areas that require improvement, technical collaboration will boost growth, trade and development. To address issues like hunger, poverty, climate change, and declining life expectancy, the world needs more advanced technologies. Cooperation can propel humanity to unprecedented heights of prosperity and well-being.

Both the USA and China have to patch up their differences. The idea is to move beyond the zero-sum mentality, recognizing that collaboration, mutual agreements, and shared interests can generate more substantial and sustainable benefits for all involved. So, rather than focusing solely on competing in a zero-sum game, the USA often aims to create scenarios where multiple parties can thrive simultaneously.

Biden has an exceptional opportunity to avert a zero-sum game with China that will not strengthen the USA. The advice of Sun Tzu is still valid: “Victory comes from finding opportunity in problems.’’ Issues abound. Will it end with a win? Depending on the decisions made.

Owais Khan
Owais Khan
The Author is a research Professional at the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad (ISSI). He graduated with a BS in International Relations from the University of Peshawar. He can be reached at [email protected]

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